College sports betting scandals and controversies

Feb 13, 2024

Sports betting has rapidly evolved in the world of professional sports, with countless advertisements including the NFL partnering with online sportsbooks and live odds being displayed during NBA games. However, it’s a completely different story in college sports. It’s perfectly legal to bet on college sports using online sportsbooks, but the options are relatively more limited - and that’s for a reason.

The NCAA, schools and regulators are concerned with the possibility of college athletes “throwing games” or having betting interests impact effort and performance. In just a few years since online sports betting was legalized, there have already been multiple instances of nefarious behavior at the college level. Let’s take a look at the history of gambling in college sports and some of the scandals that have been recently uncovered. 

College Sports and Legalized Betting

History

When the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was overturned in 2018, it opened the door for states to legalize sports gambling. Since then, nearly 40 states have legalized sports betting in some fashion. That means people can bet on college sports, but of course not if you’re involved with them. The NCAA clearly states in the rule section that “Athletes, coaches, and staff are prohibited from betting on amateur, collegiate, and professional sports in which the NCAA conducts a championship. Betting by any athlete, regardless of their sport, on the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB would be a violation, as would wagering on college competitions.” (Sports Illustrated)

For non-college athletes, rules for betting on college sports can be tricky. A decent amount of states have some sort of restriction on gambling on college sports. For example, New Jersey and Massachusetts do not allow their residents to gamble on in-state college teams. On the other end of the spectrum, other states like Michigan and Kansas allow betting just about everything in college sports, even player prop bets. The laws vary widely, as each state has its own rules.

Colleges & Universities’ Partnerships with Sportsbooks

Although college athletes might not be able to gamble, universities throughout the country have started to partner with sports betting companies. In 2020, the University of Colorado became the first school to partner with a sports betting company when they signed a deal with PointsBet. PointsBet, which has since been acquired by Fanatics, followed that up with a deal with the University of Maryland. Not long after, Caesars Sportsbook agreed to partnerships with Louisiana State University and Michigan State University. 

It seemed like a new dawn of sports betting was upon college sports, but it didn’t last long. PointsBet ended its partnership with Colorado after just two years as the American Gaming Association updated its marketing code, which banned “sportsbooks from partnering with colleges to promote sports wagering, bar payments to college and amateur athletes for using their name, image or likeness. This has likely ended for good the concept of sportsbooks partnering with colleges and universities. 

College Sports Betting Controversies & Scandals

The NCAA was worried about betting scandals when online sports betting was legalized, and those fears have been proved valid in the years since. One of the most recent scandals wasn’t even with a college athlete; it was a coach. 

Alabama Baseball 

University of Alabama baseball head coach Brad Bohannon was fired after being involved in a scandal in which he told an accomplice to wager $100,000 on the team the Crimson Tide was playing (LSU) in 2023 (FOX News). Bohannon knew that his starting pitcher was going to be unable to pitch an hour before the game started, and instead of informing the other team immediately (which would have shifted the odds for the game in LSU’s favor), he texted a friend at a sportsbook to wager on LSU before the odds changed. The scandal was brought to light after his accomplice seemed suspicious, and the sportsbook did not allow the $100,000 wager. Bohannon was fired shortly.

Iowa and Iowa State Football

Coaches haven’t been the only people to get caught in a scandal. In 2023, over 40 college athletes between the University of Iowa and Iowa State University were caught illegally gambling on games that included their own. Iowa State quarterback Hunter Dekkers was at the center of the scandal as he had placed over 300 wagers, with nearly all of them being placed before he turned 21 years old (KCCI). Approximately 26 of the bets were on Iowa State-related games. 

Iowa kicker Aaron Blom was another student-athlete caught in the scandal, and he reportedly placed more than 170 wagers online using a DraftKings account under his mother’s name (Denver Post). Several of the bets placed were on Iowa games that he was playing in. The dozens of other players involved in the scandal placed 10 to thousands of bets on sports while attempting to conceal their identities. And these are just some of the multiple college sports betting scandals.

Increasing Popularity of Gambling at Colleges

The sports gambling industry has boomed in the last few years, and one of the fastest-growing demographics of bettors is college students. With the advertisements of promotions, bonus bets and profit boosts, online sportsbooks try to look as appealing as possible to college students. The marketing has worked, and more college students are involved in sports gambling than ever. In a study done by the University of Buffalo, 1 out of 10 college students can be classified as a pathological gambler, which is drastically higher than the 2-5% of the United States population that is estimated to have a gambling problem (TIME). 

While only 1 in 10 students may have a gambling addiction, plenty of other college students still participate in sports betting. In a study conducted on over 3,500 people between the ages of 18 and 22 by the NCAA in 2023, nearly 60% have been involved in a sports gambling activity. Of those 58%, nearly 4% participate in sports betting daily and 6% have admitted to losing at least $500 in a day before. The amount of college students participating in sports gambling is increasing, and that brings the risk of more students becoming addicted.

“I look at the legalization of gambling like I look at the opioid crisis,” says Diana Goode, who is the executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling (TIME). Goode reported that the number of people calling the council for help has doubled since 2019, and the callers are only getting younger and younger. Colleges and universities are scrambling to educate students on the dangers of sports gambling before it’s too late.

Resources:

Young people are gambling more, NCAA athletes included - Sports Illustrated

College Football & Basketball Player Prop Rules by State: Where Are They Allowed?

University of Colorado, PointsBet Ink NCAA Betting Partnership

New marketing code will prohibit college betting partnerships - ESPN

New details emerge in Alabama baseball gambling scandal involving ex-coach: report | Fox News

List of Iowa, Iowa State student-athletes charged in sports wagering investigation

Former Iowa kicker charged in gambling sting allegedly won a bet on the 2021 Iowa-Iowa State game

An Explosion in Sports Betting Is Driving Gambling Addiction Among College Students

NCAA releases sports wagering survey data

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